Five key talking points as Milan earn hard-fought draw in battle with Napoli

Theo Hernandez AC Milan Napoli

Milan secured a share of the spoils on Sunday night as we battled to a 2-2 draw with Napoli at the San Paolo in what was arguably a fair result.

It was a back-and-forth encounter as we took the lead despite Napoli being the better side throughout the first half, but we eventually found ourselves falling behind on the hour mark.

READ MORE: Life without Zlatan: How Milan can move forward if Ibrahimovic departs

Fortunately, Franck Kessie’s well-taken penalty ensured we took a point from the clash, and that in turn keeps us just two points behind Napoli in the Serie A table, and four points adrift of Roma.

Hard-fought point

It was apparent even in the early stages that this would be a real battle both tactically and in terms of the stamina and desire of the players as we matched up well early on.

While we showed class to open the scoring, we had to show character and determination in the second half to dig deep and respond to going behind while also tweaking our system and approach, and we did that having found an equaliser.

In many ways it was a disappointing performance given our recent form as many key players struggled to influence the game, but to take a point away at Napoli to keep our unbeaten run going since the restart, it should keep our momentum going and our confidence high.

Pioli changes crucial again

It could be argued that Stefano Pioli perhaps got it wrong with his starting line-up and set-up in the first half, as we made no impact in the final third at all aside from our goal and Napoli were outplaying us for large periods.

That said, he did well to get us back into the game with timely substitutions, including the introduction of Giacomo Bonaventura who won the all-important penalty.

An over-zealous Alexis Saelemaekers had the desired effect before getting sent off, while Rafael Leao and Rade Krunic played their respective parts in ensuring we remained a threat and picked up a point.

Attack kept quiet, fail to deliver

One of the more disappointing aspects of the game though was how poor and ineffective our attacking players were, starting with Zlatan Ibrahimovic leading the line.

As noted in the match preview, his match-up with the two Napoli centre-halves was going to be critical, but he was often outmuscled and marked out of the game while he struggled to even have an influence when dropping back into space.

Lucas Paqueta struggled once again playing out wide while Hakan Calhanoglu was anonymous for the most part, and naturally when you take three out of the four attacking quartet out of the equation, we’re going to struggle to win games.

It’s vital that Pioli gets it right when picking which games Ibrahimovic starts in. There’s no doubt that the 38-year-old still offers quality, but we needed pace, movement and energy to press off the ball and to stretch the Napoli defence to make Kalidou Koulibaly and Nikola Maksimovic a lot more uncomfortable rather than ultimately just playing to their strengths.

Donnarumma decisive

While his distribution raised some eyebrows again for the first time in a while, Gianluigi Donnarumma showed his world-class ability doing his primary job as he pulled off some important saves in the first half.

He hasn’t had a lot to do in recent games and so it was impressive in itself to see him sharp and not suffering with any lapses in concentration, as he stood up and made his presence felt when needed.

Had it not been for two of his saves in the early stages of the game, the result could have looked a lot different.

Conti struggles

Unfortunately, after showing improvement since the restart, this was a major step back for Andrea Conti as he looked vulnerable and exposed on countless occasions.

It was felt that having had the chance to get a regular run of games under his belt, it was perhaps having a positive impact on his fitness, sharpness and form.

However, he’ll have to bounce back from a poor performance as he looked shaky and was often targeted by Napoli as they sensed the weakness in that area of the pitch and he was caught out far too often.